Today’s reading: poverty and governance


Are we poor? asks a reader of Danny Westneat, who writes for the Seattle Times. The answer, of course, depends. For a very privileged few, things are splendid, with the incomes and wealth at the top rising while the Rest of Us have experienced a steady diminution.

But [Chuck] Nevi, a retired high-school English teacher, said he began to notice more ThirdWorld-type stories about us almost every day in the paper. He didn’t think of them that way at first, because this is America. But then he began to chronicle them and look at them as an outsider might.

Crumbling roads and bridges. Insufficient funds for medical care for veterans. Cuts in unemployment benefits. Poverty-level minimum wages.

Speaking of poverty, Thomas Edsall suggests that America is “out of whack,” especially on inequality. Our fabled institutions, both political and economic, no longer work for the Rest of Us. Edsall includes this chart from the Federal Reserve bulletin:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 9.55.19 AM

Reader of this blog need not be surprised by the graphic. I’ve written about inequality many times over several years. The meager, so-called recovery has benefitted only the top sliver of the U.S. population, those who run corporations, often into the ground, while receiving Carnegie-like fortunes during short tenures at the helm. Edsall quotes Business Insider:

“America’s companies and company owners — the small group of Americans who own and control America’s corporations — are hogging a record percentage of the country’s wealth for themselves.”

We know that our federal government long ceased to represent the interests of mere mortals, choosing instead to coddle their wealthy benefactors at our expense. One might expect to see conversations about that institution, including a fundamental question: Is this really the best we can do?


I was struck by an essay from yesterday’s Vox, written by Dylan Matthews. He looks very much to the south of us, to New Zealand, actually, to give us ample reason to embrace that country’s system of governance. Matthews offers three reasons for doing so:

  1. mixed member proportional representation (more on this below),
  2. a single legislative body, and, hold onto your hats,
  3. monarchy.

On the first, Matthews explains:

The best proportional representation (PR) system, then, is a twist on party-list voting known as mixed-member PR, or MMP for short. MMP has voters select both a candidate in their local district and a party they’d like to win a majority. Everyone who wins a district gets a seat, and then additional seats are given out to ensure that parties are represented in proportion to their share of the party vote. This has a number of advantages. Unlike party list representation, people still have representatives with at least some time to their area, for whatever that’s worth.

Neither a Seattle conservative nor a liberal Kansan finds electoral support in America’s peculiar brand of representative democracy. The Founding Fathers fell in love with the politics of dirt, setting geography above ideology. Rather than criticize the fundamentally flawed system, we worship it, or else. PR comes to the rescue to ensure that voices are heard. Besides, citizens can actually vote for someone rather than try to block the more egregious candidate.

And why the hell do we need two congressional houses? New Zealand and others, including “Sweden, Norway, Finland, Portugal, Denmark, Israel, Iceland, and Taiwan,” do fine with one.

As to monarchy, here’s Matthews’s take:

Monarchs are more effective than presidents precisely because they lack any semblance of legitimacy.


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